San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Devin Vassell is off to a strong start this season. Now in his second year after being drafted 11th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft, Vassell is emerging as a key player in the rotation. Moreover, he's not only carved out a bigger role but has thrived in it.
Vassell is averaging a terrific 11.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 1.8 assists off the bench. His strong play is likely to gain attention league-wide, especially considering that 10 players were drafted before him and several of those players are behind in terms of development.
After all, Vassell is already a good player, which cannot be said about every player selected ahead of him, and he has the potential to be a great player. Given San Antonio's strong draft record, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he's on a trajectory to be one of the best players in his draft class, therefore making him a major draft steal.
What makes Devin Vassell stand out?
With his length, athleticism, and defensive instincts, Vassell seemed destined to develop into a great defender in the NBA. Despite that, his underrated offensive ability resulted in him being foolishly overlooked by other teams drafting ahead of the Spurs.
Luckily, San Antonio made the right decision and saw his potential as a talented two-way player. He further proved them right during his rookie season when he was able to immediately contribute, a difficult feat for any young player playing on the Spurs.
This season, Vassell has joined the team's closing lineup, a sign of the team's growing trust in him. In fact, he is sixth on the team in minutes this season and has been a key part of San Antonio’s aggressive defense.
Vassell, himself, is averaging 1.3 steals and 1.6 deflected passes per game, proving that he’s a ball-hawk on defense. Additionally, he’s helped the Spurs rank 8th in steals and 5th in opponent turnovers.
When playing alongside Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, Keldon Johnson, and Jakob Poeltl, the Spurs have a lineup that features no weak links on defense. This is especially true with Vassell on the court, given his ability to switch and guard multiple positions, as well as being able to rotate and provide stellar help defense.
On offense, Vassell has provided the Spurs with a high volume 3-point shooter and has seen his scoring increase as his offensive role has grown. Last season, he was primarily a spot-up shooter, though he's had the ball in his hands more this season.
His usage rate has jumped more than 4% this season to18.7%, a result of frequently being used in direct handoffs (DHO), with either Poeltl or Drew Eubanks helping him get open looks. Additionally, he’s used ball screens to get into the paint, where he uses step-backs to create space to get off shots in the midrange.
Vassell will need to work on getting to the basket more to become less reliant on his jump shot, though that should come in time. For this season, his offensive role will still be that of a sharpshooter, a role he is well suited for.
Prior to being drafted by the Spurs, Vassell shot an impressive 41% from three over his two seasons at Florida State. While he hasn't shot nearly as well during his time with San Antonio, he should be able to develop more of a rhythm now that he's averaging 26.1 minutes and attempting 4.8 threes per game.
Assuming he’s able to find a consistent shooting stroke, he’ll likely crack the starting lineup sooner rather than later and play alongside Murray, White, Johnson, and Poeltl full time. Given that lineup’s lack of shooting, he’d have a crucial role going forward as the “designated shooter”. Per 36-minutes, Vassell is averaging 16.4 points, (even despite his uncharacteristically poor free-throw shooting), providing a glimpse of how effective he could be as a starter.
Coach Gregg Popovich could use him in a number of ways, including having him run off multiple screens to get open, using pin-downs and ball screens, spot-ups, as well as more DHO's. He’s also effective as a cutter and in transition, thus making him a potentially high-ceiling offensive player.
Ultimately, Vassell has shown strong potential and could develop into a terrific two-way player. Moreover, he’s already shown that he was worthy of being selected 11th overall and I believe that he has a real chance of being one of the five best players in the 2020 NBA Draft.
We’ll have to keep an eye on Vassell as the season progresses. Given his early-season play, he is already proving to be a major draft steal for the Spurs.